Reader Sad Sister writes,
My sister was always a happy, seemingly well-adjusted child, but things changed as a teenager. She seemed to develop two personalities, one very sweet and one very hateful. We never knew which person we would deal with. She would act out whenever another of our siblings was getting too much attention--partying, cutting herself, having dramatic fights with our parents. She became very promiscuous, and eventually ended up pregnant at 16.
Our parents tried to help her by seeking counseling, spending more time one on one with her. Being around her was like walking on eggshells. We never knew when she would lose it. She would steal things from us (like our toothbrushes), threaten us with bodily harm. One time while I was pregnant, she threatened to kick me in the stomach so that my baby would die. She would also constantly pick at her skin and hair to the point of bald spots and bloody spots.
She ended up marrying the father and things seemed to improve--seemed more stable, she still would seek attention (especially from our parents) in unhealthy ways, nothing as dramatic as before. She started exercising obsessively and started getting plastic surgery often...nose, boob job, face lift. She's only 26.
Lately, regression. She started working for my parents' business when she had her baby at 17. She was a hard worker and an asset to the company, but probably lucky that my parents could give her a job, compared to what regular teenaged mothers face. She worked for them for 8 years, then decided to start an eBay business together--her, her husband, and my parents.
Things started out well. She's a go-getter and found plenty of product and lots of contacts. My mom was to do shipping and their physical storefront. She would do listing online. My parents have their other business as well. Recently, things have gone south. She decided she doesn't want to share the profits with my parents and has accused them of stealing, not working, and trying to take over the eBay business. My parents have invested a lot of money into it, because she didn't have capital. Things will be fine for a few days, then she will call my mom in a fit of rage again and say hurtful and hateful things. My mom is so stressed and never knows when it will happen again.
At this point, they are owed around $50,000. There's money to pay them, but her and her husband won't because they don't "deserve it". She calls my mom screaming at her that she is acting entitled, also threatens to call her clients for her other business, telling them not to work with her. Mom is ready to give up and give her everything, sever ties, because it is so toxic. I feel like that isn't fair, as it will probably lead to their financial ruin. What is wrong with my sister? My parents have done nothing but try to help and support her!
Your sister sounds like she suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, which you can read about here, here, and here. It is a disorder characterized by fear of abandonment, paranoia under stress, moodiness, impulsivity, anger issues, lack of a stable sense of identity (thus all the plastic surgery, probably), suicidality, and a feeling of emptiness. It often co-occurs with substance abuse, depression, and eating disordered behavior. A classic book about BPD is called Stop Walking on Eggshells, which you can understand from how you describe life with your sister.
I understand that you wish things were different, and that you are angry on behalf of your parents. But keep in mind that they chose this road, and it was likely because they themselves had their heads in the sand, hoping against hope that this business partnership would be stable, allowing your sister to finally make it on her own, albeit with their help, and be happy and successful. Unfortunately, your sister is unable to see their help for what it is, and instead, is growing angry and paranoid (traits in BPD that are very much exacerbated by stress or pressure, here, from a growing business).
I suggest that you encourage your parents to cut their losses. They are correct that this is a toxic situation, and their money is unlikely to be recovered. A lawsuit is possible, but most parents will not do this to their kids, and I believe that it would be more trouble than it is worth, unless they are truly destitute.
As for you, I suggest that you do some reading on BPD, including the books on my list here in the sections about difficult people and dysfunctional families. If you have a therapist, you may want to explore the impact it's may have had on your life to deal with your sister's constant issues. Firstly, she was outright abusive to you, and living with her was harrowing and, likely, traumatizing. Furthermore, many siblings of dramatic, disordered siblings feel that they have unintentionally been put in the role of the "good" child and they try at all times to minimize their needs so as to limit the burden on their parents. This may be the case with you, since you are so affected and angered by your sister's behavior toward your parents that you wrote in to me. Although of course you're angry on their behalf, you may also be angry at her on your own, for always taking the attention of the family and for ruining family events and interactions. Many BPD siblings somehow manage to steal the spotlight even at their siblings' weddings, the birth of their kids, graduations, et cetera, and I wonder if this has been the case for you.
Best of luck, and keep me updated. Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, It Can Be Very Hard To Be "The Good One."
Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice, including therapy, coaching, and consultation, here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.